Interest in Kublai Khan was revived now that a TV series involving his “protegee”, Marco Polo, is now showing on Netflix. Knowing how creative liberties would be applied in the story, we then should take a look at history. What made Kublai Khan a legend on his own?
This is not to say he is in the same league as that of his legendary grandfather, Genghis Khan. But the moment he became emperor, he knew that his mission is to conquer the rest of the territories that the old man has not annexed before his death. These and more as we enumerate some hard facts.
– His rise to the throne meant defeating his own brother
Most of his relatives favored his brother, Ariq Boke, as the next emperor to rule them all. It was a claim that Kublai Khan contested. This caused a civil war in Mongolia for the legitimacy of the crown. This is despite the fact that his brother managed to hold a great council to support his claim to the throne. The only brother who supported his claim to the throne is his fourth brother, Hulagu Khan. With support from the monarchs from North China and Manchuria, he held his own great council to proclaim him as the Great Khan. A great clan divide and several wars later, Ariq Boke then surrendered to Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan spared him his life but not of his rabid followers.
– His earlier interests leaned more towards philosophy and spirituality
After getting fascinated with the healing abilities of the Tibetan monks, he made one of them a member of his entourage. This also pushed his desire to annex China to fully absorb and learn the various philosophies espoused there. He learned Buddhism from one of the top monks in northern China. So impressed was he that he eventually named one of his sons, Zhenjin (“True Gold” in English).
– He used catapults inspired by what the Christians used in war
For a religious denomination that promoted love and acceptance, it inspired a staggering weapon that Kublai Khan could use in order to penetrate China. At this time, the idea of a smaller empire conquering a million-strong empire is inconceivable. Think of the Sioux annexing Canada. Never happened and perhaps never will.
This is where Kublai Khan acknowledged that whatever they lacked in manpower, they have to make up for weaponry. With the help of Persian engineers, a catapult to improvise their attack was constructed, With a heavy duty capacity of 220 lbs, Kublai Khan lay the smack down on China by annexing first the towns with the crushed towers. The Mongols never looked back and in due time, all of present-day China is conquered.
– He ruled China through its own system of a civil service
For everyone else that Khan and his army kept alive, it included some government officials through which they ruled the land. This caused a favorable mention of Khan in Chinese history especially when he gave his dynasty a local name – Yuan. Chinese history kept a database of previous dynasties that ruled it and the Yuan Dynasty earned a spot there. Today, the Mongolians are included among the list of ethnic groups residing in China today alongside Ulghurs, Tibetans and the Han.
– He invaded China but kept the Chinese culture alive
While most conquerors would try destroying whatever history is left of their conquered area, Kublai Khan let the Chinese culture stay. It can be easily viewed as his way of showing that China is the crown jewel of his conquests. He pushed the idea further by moving the capital of the empire from Karakorum in Mongolia to Peking. Historians disputed whether it is Peking itself or Tai-tu, a district near Beijing which is the name of Peking today. Seeing the Chinese heritage preserved under the new emperor, many Chinese scholars were persuaded to serve in his court.
An invasion of China that ended up into a benevolent attempt at preserving Chinese culture and philosophy, there is little wonder why Chinese history treated him as their “favorite barbarian”. While his achievements ranged from the military to philosophical forces, there is no denying that it was just the leadership that Khan changed but not the culture.
So now the challenge comes for me to play the role of Kublai Khan at Marco Polo The Musical in the CCP, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. A big dare because it’s the most prestigious theater. And also I have to play a character way older than me and with a high and low vocal range.
Stay tuned friend!